Volunteer View

8 Aug

I’ve been neglecting my blog, but not the garden. I’ll get back to updates on that, but first I’d like to share some of my new food related volunteer activities this summer. Fruit, veg, food waste, nutrition.

I can’t garden enough or cook enough to satisfy my own enjoyment, so these activities have allowed me to still participate and have someone else benefit. Everyone wins!

This post is a little bit long.

Gleaning with DC Central Kitchen

DC Central Kitchen makes 5,000 meals a day for homeless shelters, transitional homes, non profits, and some schools in DC. They offer culinary training programs for unemployed people, giving them much needed job skills and setting them up for a better future. Much of DCCK’s food is donated, including produce during the spring, summer, and fall.

The concept of gleaning goes back to biblical days. Farmers allow those in need to pick the edges of their fields. Today, when small, local farmers can’t pick all of the fruit and veg they grow throughout the season, mostly due to staff and time constraints, they allow others to do it for them. Unless it is picked and sold, much of it will be wasted. Solution! DCCK volunteers pick that excess produce to make those 5,000 meals a day. Fruit and veg might look a little strange, be too big, or otherwise unsaleable on the general market. The farm location could change every week, as produce is picked when it is ready. Volunteers often don’t know where they will be until a few days before, but usually about an hour or so from DC. The farmers get a tax donation in the retail value of their donation, fields get picked, volunteers enjoy a morning out in the country, and lots of healthy, ripe, delicious produce makes its way into the kitchen for those in need.

In June, I picked strawberries in Aldie, Virginia. There were only about 6 or 7 volunteers, but we picked two solid rows of perfect, red, ripe, sweet berries. Filled up the DCCK van.

Photo Jun 02, 11 44 21 AM Photo Jun 02, 11 01 05 AM

 

 

 

 

Also picked some funky shapes. @UglyFruitAndVeg reposted the “hand” shaped fruit!

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There were still several more rows that Photo Jun 03, 12 11 31 AMwe were not able to pick. Even with all of our work, berries went to waste. Later, I picked some for myself in the U-pick rows, and even picked some white strawberries and pickled them. Very interesting. Apple cider vinegar, peppercorns, sugar, salt, caraway seeds, mustard powder (because I didn’t have mustard seeds left, oops.) and I think that was it. They’re still crisp. Taste like…an unripe pickled strawberry, but really I’m not describing them well…they taste better than you’re imagining.

I went out again this past Thursday morning to a farm in Delaplane, Virginia. Much larger group, maybe 15-18 people. There was a corporate group of 5 people, a friend group of about 6, a few stragglers like me. We made quick work of the GIGANTIC zucchinis and yellow squash out in the fields. How does a zucchini get to be over two feet long? A combination of hiding under leaves and avoiding being picked, hot weather, and the right amount of rain. Same for the 10 inch long okra! Our zucchinis weighed over 1,060 pounds! We also picked cucumbers, kale, and swiss chard.

Photo Aug 04, 12 44 12 PM All of that food was cooked and enjoyed within hours. Without volunteers to help pick it, it would have gone to waste in the field, hurting the farmer. I’m signed up for a few more dates in the future. They pick into early November. See the volunteer page for more info.

Common Good City Farm

A true urban farm in DC, Common Good City Farm aims to help low income DC residents meet food needs. They provide veggies to the community, and teach about nutrition and growing veggies through workshops and hands-on training on the farm. They operate a small CSA and farm stand where produce grown on the small farm are sold. Volunteers may water, weed, harvest, or help turn compost, something I enjoy doing, as you may remember from posts of years back!

I’ve visited a few times so far, including once in July and just yesterday. Here’s July’s visit. See the odd water delivery device I’m using? I believe it is called a hose. Wish I had something like that upstairs on the roof…

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And here are some fun farm shots! Check out that eggplant!

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So far I’ve visited Common Good City Farm with a group from the DCJCC and with the Jewish Food Experience.

N Street Village

N Street Village serves women who are homeless or in transition. They provide food, job services, addiction recovery, and any other needs that underserved women in DC might need. I volunteered here with the Jewish Food Experience for the first time last month. They’ve come on a pretty regular schedule, but I haven’t been able to attend until now. I’m really going to try to come again. The early shift prepared and 13724992_10154549857647150_8327389182870452089_oserved breakfast for 70 people, the middle shift prepared lunch, and the later shift served lunch. I sliced up some beautiful tomatoes, a donation from a local farmer who also sells at a local farmer’s market, and layered them with mozzarella, basil, and balsamic vinegar. Tasty, tasty! I didn’t get a photo of the rest of the foods we made, but there were chicken strips with dipping sauces, a variety of salads, and some rugelach, fresh out of the oven. I left before the lunch serving shift started, but I heard that everything was well received.

 

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The Great Cucumber Mystery

6 Jun

I had planned to write about picking strawberries for DC Central Kitchen today, but this seemed much more urgent. I have a mystery plant.

Here are the facts:

  • Started cucumbers and Mexican gherkins inside in late April. 7 seedlings from cucumbers, 6 from gherkins. All seeds that I planted sprouted within about 5 days. No duds! Photo May 30, 7 15 42 PM
  • Planted 7 cucumbers and 3 gherkins in the tank on May 30. Gave away one gherkin, two more are waiting for new homes now. Added the trellises for support. They look great. I’m going to get another one for the sweet peas I just planted in the second tank.
  • Left an open space because I though they’d like some additional breathing room.
  • Everything was fine on Saturday, June 4.
  • Sunday, June 5, 1:45 pm I see this cucumber looking guy poking out right in the space I left vacant. Photo Jun 06, 1 13 37 PM

WHAT?

I have no idea. I didn’t plant any additional seeds, and all of the plants I had were already in. This one is in a perfect spot, too. No one else would have done it, I don’t think my neighbors have been up there in a while, and what kind of  gag would that be? “Ha ha won’t it be funny if I follow Emily up to the roof and secretly plant some extra seeds?”

I still don’t know what, exactly, it is, but I’ll update in a few days. If it’s some sort of weed, I’ll just pull it and leave the space empty. If it turns out to be a cucumber, I’ll leave it, I suppose.

Also, I planted the second tank. Removed the GIGANTIC 3′ kale stalks that were still there from last fall. For a while I was picking the baby leaves and just munching them upstairs. They flowered constantly starting in April.

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In went three bell peppers and one hot pepper. I left some of the carrots so I could continue to treat Dolley to some snacks for a few more days. I planted 5 sweet pea seeds, and I’m going to put in a trellis this week for them, too. Not sure what I’ll put in the other side there when the carrots are gone.

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Finally, right this very moment there are 7 DUDES ON THE ROOF MAKING PIPE AND DECK REPAIRS! THEY WILL BE DONE LATER THIS WEEK AND OUR ROOF WILL BE WHOLE AGAIN!

Finally! Let’s Get Started!

1 Jun

This year was going to get off to a late start no matter what. We’re still waiting on roof and deck repairs (see previous post from February), but now we have a construction start date! Besides that, we had nearly a month of rain and unseasonably cool temps, including a few late frosts into May. Little guys wouldn’t have had a chance.

But, we went from 50ish degrees and raining last Sunday to sunny and nearly 90 last Thursday! I hope the cold is finally behind us. Last week I bought new pots and potting soil. Wound up with a bit of a different plan than I had a few months ago, but I think this will be just fine.

First, I started my seedlings off in March, a bit late, knowing that I’d probably not be able to plant them for a few extra weeks because of the roof construction. Some were in peat pots, some were in plastic pots I’d saved from the past, all into salad containers for ease of movement and watering. I put them on a table in the hallway because that part of the building gets a lot of sun. Peat pots are great because they are super cheap and you can just plant the whole thing when the time comes. The plant’s roots will come right through, so there’s much less of a chance of transplant shock. However, they do dry out much faster than plastic pots. New chocolate mint, too. I saw it while shopping for new pots and I just couldn’t resist. Also, some green onions I got in the grocery store that I resprouted.

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This year I also used salad containers. Just filled them with potting mix and planted cucumbers in one, Mexican gherkins in another, and basil in the last one. All three types of containers wound up being terrific in the end.

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I moved everyone upstairs to the elevator landing for about a week before moving them outside. It was much warmer up there, and I was able to get them right on top of the windows. Then outside for a few days, checking to make sure they were not drying out or limp. Because they are right against the building, they got a good amount of shade, too.

This past weekend was planting time. Each teeny tiny tomato went into a 26 quart pot with two little basils, except for one that got parsley. Not sure if the parsley is going to make it, but if not, I could always put another parsley in there. Right now I have one yellow pear tomato, two red cherries, and two roma plants. I’m considering keeping one of the extra romas I still have for another pot. Really want to make up and then can some paste, ketchup, and tomato sauce this summer.

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I also have a new large herb pot with two parsleys, dill, oregano, and thyme. Mint, of course, has its own pot. My mother bought me a gigantic rosemary plant that got its own 26 quart pot, too.

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Into one tank, 7 cucumbers, 3 Mexican gherkins, and two bell peppers. I bought two pieces of lattice trellis things specifically for the climbing things so they don’t have to lay on the fencing anymore. Notice in this photo the tank is not in it’s normal spot! It’s right in front of the entry door for now. Argh. Anyway, the second tank still has some carrots and kale from last year, but I’ll eventually put the rest of the peppers in there, including one hot pepper. Might get a second hot pepper.

Photo May 30, 7 08 29 PM Photo May 30, 7 16 37 PM

Haven’t planted the sweet peas yet. Might do that in the second tank with the peppers.

Now that I have something to write about, I’ll be updating again on a regular basis.

 

It’s 2016! What’s growing?

15 Feb

Nothing’s growing just yet, but I have plans! Here are the seeds that arrived a few weeks ago. I plan to start these seeds in mid to late March. I’ll start enough to share with Erin, and I’ll offer other neighbors in case anyone else wants.

Photo Feb 15, 2 37 08 PM

  • Roma tomatoes will be for making tomato paste. It worked well with the left over cherries I had last year, so I’m hoping that using actual paste tomatoes will be better.
  • Sweet peas are adorable and crunchy and tasty. Should be able to eat the whole pod.
  • Mexican gherkins are the size of a large grape, have the coloring of a watermelon, and taste like a cross between a lemon and a crunchy cucumber. I’m exited to try them.
  • The flowers were sent along with the others, not sure what I’ll do with them. Butterflies would be great, but I don’t know how many of them I’ve seen up there in the past.

A roof update. The garden right now is in total disarray. The deck is temporarily gone, as we needed to have the roof itself redone. We had water leaking into units on the top floor earlier, but now it is repaired. The deck, however….chaos. We should wind up with a much nicer looking space with deck boards that don’t pop up in random places and hurt us. That would be super. Have no idea when it’ll be done. They say before the spring…the original plan was to finish by early November. Didn’t quite happen!

We had to move everything, EVERYTHING, away from the main area, and my neighbors and I were able to do that except for the tanks. After the massive January snow storm and subsequent rains, the tanks were too heavy to move anywhere, so they’re kind of tucked away in the least convenient place. Anyway, I had to toss my two compost buckets, which upset me greatly, and move all of the pots downstairs to a nook in one of the stairwells. I’m guessing most of the herbs in tera cotta pots will die. I’ll find out in another week or two when I work up the nerve to check on them. Also tossed the tomatoes in 5 gallon buckets. They were dead, and the buckets were cracked all over.

But, looking forward to this spring, I’m going to get a bunch of 10 gallon garbage cans from Restaurant Depot and use them for tomatoes, gherkins, and peas. Drill holes in the bottom, lava rock for drainage, two 6′ stakes for support per bucket. The tanks will be again for peppers, cucumbers, beets, and carrots. I’ll be rotating some of the plant placements in the tanks, too. I’ll start a new compost bin as well.

I’ll have to wait until this snow stops, though!

Fall Harvest Update

4 Nov

GREAT SUCCESS!

Radishes, kale, and carrots are happily growing upstairs! A few weeks ago we had a few unseasonably early cold nights, down to the low 30s. It would have been toast for everyone had I not covered up the tank with towels. Plastic would have been better, but I didn’t have any immediately available. One frost would have done it to them, and I know that others lost plants that weren’t covered. So, we continue to grow. Lots of rain a few weeks ago helped out a lot, too. Here are some recent photos of fall growth from the tank. The white bulbs are watermelon radishes, the red are “fire and ice” and are VERY spicy! The purple kale is really good, too.

Photo Oct 27, 5 45 15 PM Photo Oct 27, 5 42 55 PM Photo Oct 21, 4 35 26 PM Photo Oct 21, 4 35 07 PM

 

Photo Nov 04, 12 50 19 PMI moved the pots of herbs to a different part of the roof near the tomatoes. They have several hours of shade every day now, and I think they really like that more than full sun. They have even started to grow back! I think next year I’ll leave them in the same spot. Even herbs that are supposed to enjoy full sun seem to be doing much better.

 

 

Photo Oct 16, 3 59 14 PMI also pulled up the marigolds from the second tank which gave those sad pepper plants the sun they had been deprived of all year. They immediately started to make fruit, so now I have several tiny SPICY hot peppers. One of them I chopped up and have sitting in olive oil, so now I have some flavor to add to my dishes.

 

 

 

 

Photo Oct 27, 6 50 59 PMSpeaking of cooking….I sauteed the kale and radish greens with a bit of the garlic and spicy pepper. A squeeze of lemon juice and some freshly grated parm and it made a great addition to spaghetti! I’m really enjoying the fresh greens. The carrots aren’t growing as fast as I thought they would, but I’ve been feeding them to Dolley. I have heard no objections.

 

 

 

Oh, and I’ve been pickling the radishes, of course.Photo Oct 27, 10 08 33 PM

New Babies Need Diapers

17 Sep

I’ve decided to try for a fall harvest. I decided on two kinds of radishes, Photo Aug 31, 2 15 34 PMcarrots, and kale. I thought it would also be good to have something else growing in that tank for a while, kind of rotating my crops.

I cleaned out one of the tanks of dead bean and cucumber plants. Then I dumped one of my finished compost buckets in there for some much needed nutrients and bulk.

I’d wanted to use SoilMoist in the tanks to see if it would help with water retention, but I only used half of one small baggie. Then I heard about using diapers for the same purpose. Why not? The active components are very similar to SoilMoist. I bought the largest kid diapers I could find, which wound up being overnights. I didn’t get adult diapers, I just didn’t want to be seen with them. Also they’re pricier. Took them apart and dumped the powdery stuff into a bowl, just to play. Works! Here it is next to the rest of the SoilMoist

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I wound up using three diapers in total, so for the other tank I’ll use four to make up for the additional SoilMoist. Worked it in a few inches under the soil, as suggested. Makes sense. You don’t want it to evaporate right away. Then I planted.

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Then I watered. You could see the new soil mix fluffing up as it absorbed the water. Radishes came up in two days, everything else was up within the week. Three weeks later and we’re doing very well. I will start to harvest the radishes in about a week or two. The intense summer heat has started to dissipate, but we are still having some high temp September days. The diapers have been protecting my babies!

Photo Sep 14, 4 31 51 PM

I’m not really concerned about the material leaching and getting into the plants themselves. It’s basically inert, and it will eventually break down into the soil and I’ll have to replace it. Next year, I’ll add some diaper material to the second tank, and also to the tomato buckets.

The Great CSA Experiment

20 Aug

For years I’ve wanted to join a CSA, or community supported agriculture. Basically you help support the farm by paying a lump sum in the spring for weekly deliveries of fruit and veg through the summer and fall. Some may also include the options of meat, eggs, or dairy. This year I was finally able to sign up because I had convinced enough of my neighbors to join as well. We have a group drop off spot in our building, and every Wednesday morning, nine of us get a delivery of fresh, local produce from Great Country Farms in Bluemont, VA. They use organic and sustainable practices in their farming.

There are several CSAs in the area. We’re lucky to have a number of farms that are close enough to be able to provide this option. Some offer home delivery, some deliver to designated group spots.

I love my roof garden, of course, but sadly I can’t rely on it for all of my veg needs. This year my tomatoes have been fabulous and cucumbers have found their homes in pickle jars. It really is more of an experiment than a subsistence garden. I like the idea of supporting a local farm, too.

We started out in June with greens, mostly kale, chard, onions, then moved into asparagus, broccoli, squash, cucumbers, lettuce, berries, cherries, peas, beets, peaches, potatoes, plums, beans, and corn. For a while we got tiny herbs, including chives, mint, basil, and parsley. Each week the basket changes slightly as the land gives up its goodies. Tomatoes and peppers are just starting to come in, and apples are next.

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Photo Jun 03, 2 37 28 PM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The positives:

  • I’ve been eating a LOT more fresh things than I would at this time of year normally. I’ve accepted that I will eat what comes in the basket, supplementing my basket with mostly garlic and onions. I do still buy buckets of salad, but mostly for my rabbit.
  • It has been easier to eat fresh, as I now have no excuse. It’s delivered right to me!
  • I’ve enjoyed pulling out veg and throwing together a healthy meal. Today’s lunch was sauteed chard and corn with shallots. Took about 10 minutes. (I had cooked the corn yesterday for dinner.) A few weeks ago I made corn chowder, and before that I made tasty broccoli pot pies with cheddar and potatoes. Photo Jun 12, 7 50 16 PM Photo Jul 06, 4 40 28 PM Photo Jul 30, 1 36 26 PM
  • Going out to the farm, where you can pick your own of what’s ripe, is fun. I went out with a group of friends last month and we picked peaches. Thanks to my CSA membership at the farm, I got in for free, got some bonus fruit for free, and a discount at the neighboring winery.
  • It is no more expensive than the farmer’s market, and the farm bonuses actually make it cheaper in a sense.

The negatives:

  • It’s a lot for one person. Kale. So much kale. I mentioned in an earlier post that I wound up dehydrating it and making chips. I just couldn’t eat any more. I do love to sautee it with garlic, chili flakes, and a squeeze of lemon or white balsamic vinegar and have it over pasta or chicken, but I can only have that so many nights. I’ve had many friends over for dinner to try to go through my basket.
  • You have to have someone willing to make sure the baskets are in a safe spot when they are dropped off. We have an entry vestibule where we receive our deliveries, but it is an oven. One of us needs to be around right after they arrive to pull them inside the secure building area to make sure the contents don’t bake. Right now we have a few people home during the day, but that’s more of a summer thing. Let’s see what happens in a few weeks.
  • It’s a lot for one person! I have three quart sized freezer bags full of corn now. One week I got 7 ears and I just couldn’t deal with it. It came in really handy a few days later when I made corn and cabbage slaw as a side for a picnic dinner. Just dumped it out of the bag, ready to serve. Last week I gave away 6 of my 8 ears. This week, I gave a ShmErin 4 ears, and I still have 4 left. She was growing corn in her garden, too.

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In short, I’ve really enjoyed getting the box of produce. I love to cook fresh things, and I love supporting local business. Perhaps next year I’ll split a share with a neighbor. We have a few months left, so I’ll share an update soon.

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